In the space of 24 hours, Ireland have been dealt a double blow with the news that Assistant Coach and Lead Fast Bowling Coach Rob Cassell is leaving his post and the likely cancellation of yet another Test match.

Australian Cassell is leaving to join the Rajasthan Royals in the prestigious Indian Premier League, where he will team up with his former colleague in Victoria, the Royals head coach Andrew McDonald, but Cassell’s wish to return to his Ireland post in June was turned down by Cricket Ireland, who will now advertise for a replacement.

Cassell with travel with the Ireland party to India for the three-match Twenty20 series against Afghanistan at the beginning of March but with Ireland due to play at least 13 games in April and May, in Zimbabwe and at home to Bangladesh, Cricket Ireland have decided to move on without him.

“As the group embark on a very busy summer of cricket I leave with a heavy heart, some great memories and I wish the players and staff the best of luck as the group builds towards the T20 World Cup,” said Cassell, who was appointed in 2017 after five years in a similar role with South Australia.

“I believe that if the emerging talent coming through the system can reach their potential, then the future looks bright for the national side and I’m looking forward to following team’s progress from afar.”

Cricket Ireland Performance Director Richard Holdsworth said: “Rob’s contribution and commitment over the last three years has been outstanding and he has been instrumental in the development of several of the now first-team bowlers that are beginning to make their mark on the international stage.

“Given the nature and profile of the IPL, the attractiveness of working within one of the franchises is understandable and we wish Rob well with the move.”

The tour to Zimbabwe was originally due to be one Test match and five T20Is, but indications are that the Test match – Ireland’s last remaining five-day game scheduled for this year, following the cancellation of next month’s game in Sri Lanka and the home Test against Bangladesh in May – will fall by the wayside because of Zimbabwe’s financial problems.

Both teams are keen, however, to play more 50-over cricket so it is likely that three one-day internationals will form part of the schedule, probably along with three T20s, but discussions are continuing over the final itinerary.

With Ireland having only one more Test match in the Future Tours Programme between now and August 2021 – and that game, away to Afghanistan is by no means certain - Ireland’s next five-day game could be in Pakistan who have an open invitation to Ireland to come to the country to play a Test match.

Ireland captain Andrew Balbirnie, on his return this week from the Caribbean tour, said Pakistan was a possibility and both Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom and chairman Ross McCollum were warmly received when they visited Pakistan in October and at the time, Deutrom said “As a Test nation we want to play our part in assisting getting international cricket back in Pakistan.”

It will not happen any time soon as Ireland will be concentrating on white-ball cricket up to the T20 World Cup in Australia, in October, but if it is their only chance to play a fourth Test match and any security issues are resolved, then it could be given the green light by both boards.

Pakistan will be in Malahide in July to play two T20Is and, undoubtedly, discussions will continue then.
Ireland have an extra incentive to reach the Super 12 stage of this year’s T20 World Cup as it will earn them automatic entry to the additional edition, in India next year.

If Ireland progress from the first round in the top two of their four-team group, which also includes Sri Lanka, Oman and Papua New Guinea, they are assured of a place in the 2021 World Cup, otherwise they will have to go through one of the eight-team global qualifying tournaments, which will take place between March and July next year.

ICC yesterday confirmed that the 2021 T20 World Cup will again be a 16-team event with the 12 teams in this year’s final stage being joined by the top two in two qualifying tournaments.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka defeated Zimbabwe yesterday by 10 wickets in the first of the two-Test series in Harare after delivering a snub to Ireland by announcing they will host West Indies in a white ball series next month.

Despite citing they had no broadcast deal to cover the one-off Test against Ireland next month, they suddenly have one in place to invite Phil Simmons’ squad for three ODIs and two T20s, starting on February 22.

Cricket Ireland refused to comment on the Sri Lankan board’s decision but did confirm that they asked “Can we do anything else to replace the Test match?” and they were turned down. The Test match, however, is part of the FTP and discussions are continuing to confirm a new date.

The next Ireland team into action will be the Wolves who will be travelling to South Africa shortly to play up to eight games against Namibia. A travelling party, certain to include senior contracted players, and itinerary will be announced early next week.